Vernon (Johnnie) Johnson, an Inyo County supervisor who successfully spearheaded Owens Valley water rights agreements with the City of Los Angeles, died Monday in Santa Barbara.
He was 70 and had suffered from an undisclosed long-term illness, a Cottage Hospital nursing supervisor said.
Johnson, who lived in Independence, was in his third term as a county supervisor. He was first elected in 1976.
As vice president of the Regional Council of Rural Counties, which includes areas with populations smaller than 100,000, Johnson received criticism from environmentalists during the 1984-85 water negotiations. They argued that the Owens Valley ground pumping required for water exports was damaging residential vegetation.
Johnson countered that the new agreement assured Los Angeles of an ample water supply from the Owens River, while giving Inyo County new environmental protections. The compromise involved ongoing studies that will determine how much water can be taken from the valley without damage to the environment.
"I felt it was time we sat across the table as adults," he said, referring to the dispute that had produced bitter arguments and lawsuits as far back as 1904.